RIBBON-CUTTING—Leon Haynes, founding CEO of Hosanna House, and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald officially open the new Center for Aviation Technology and Training (CATT) and Tuskegee Airmen Museum, Feb. 24. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Also honors Tuskegee Airmen with museum
In the words of Hosanna House Founding CEO Leon Haynes III, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
So in the coming months, there will be an abundance of young people, many of whom are African American, who will come to know a lot about the field of aviation.
The month of April begins the start of school visits full of students pouring into the new Center for Aviation Technology and Training (CATT) and Tuskegee Airmen Museum, located inside the Sherwood Event Center in Wilkinsburg.
The New Pittsburgh Courier was granted an exclusive look inside the museum in February, crafted in collaboration with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The Children’s Museum staff placed a plethora of interactive exhibits for kids inside the new museum, including airport runways and a flight simulation center. To honor the Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), the museum is equipped with replica Tuskegee Airmen jerseys, helmets and other memorabilia. The museum also features the exhibit, “Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight,” which chronicles the story of African Americans who attained great achievements in the world of aviation, despite facing racial barriers. Much of the Tuskegee exhibits were contributed to the museum by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
JOY HENDRIX is ready to fly—The Tuskegee Airmen Museum has a flight simulator. (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr.)
The museum takes up most of the first floor of the Sherwood Event Center, 400 Sherwood Rd., while the second floor will continue to be a separate place for meetings, weddings, etc. Hosanna House, the longtime youth and family advocacy organization based in Wilkinsburg, owns the Sherwood Event Center.
“If our kids don’t know anything about the Tuskegee Airmen and their history, they just don’t know,” Haynes told the Courier, Feb. 23. “The film (“Red Tails”) can’t be the only thing that tells a story like that of that importance, so we have to create a museum to do that.”
Haynes said the field of aviation has been dominated by Caucasians, but it doesn’t have to be. Haynes said if Black children are not around “technology, anything dealing with aviation; If I’ve never been to the airport, never flown a plane, I don’t have a clue of what all goes on there…if nobody’s talking about a job that I can get there, I’m just clueless. But if I can get you thinking about aviation, if I can show you Black and brown people who’ve been in NASA and who’ve run programs, if I can show you training and get you empowered about taking a course, then you have an opportunity to win.”
Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2020, African Americans accounted for just 3.4 percent of the country’s aircraft pilots and flight engineers.
LEON HAYNES, FOUNDING CEO OF HOSANNA HOUSE, WITH KIMBERLY SLATER-WOOD
Hosanna House plans to open the museum to school visits and for special events in April and May, with June earmarked as the start for youth in Hosanna House’s summer program to take visits. School visits will start up again in the fall, and at that time, Haynes and his staff will determine if and when the museum would open to the general public.
The museum also will be used as a training center for high-schoolers to get them pumped about aviation. A partnership with Hampton University (an HBCU located in Virginia) and the organization “Black Girls Drone” will put teens through a four-to-seven week “boot camp” of sorts. They’ll learn everything from coding, to programming, to building a drone, to flying a drone good enough to be certified.
“We want to get our children and our people ready,” Haynes told the Courier. “Some people are saying, in the next decade, 30 to 40 percent of Black folks who don’t have any experience in technology might be out of a job…we don’t want that to happen. So we’re trying to be intentional about investment and training/awareness, and a bridge for training to have that career.”
In addition to the Courier, a number of special invited guests attended the Feb. 23 “soft opening” of the Center for Aviation Technology and Training and Tuskegee Airmen Museum. The guests seemed mesmerized at the contents inside the museum, particularly the flight simulation area and the Tuskegee memorabilia.
“What an important thing this is around aviation,” voiced Rich Fitzgerald, the Allegheny County Chief Executive who attended the soft opening. “Pittsburgh’s history is so rich in so many things, and one of the richest things we have is with our Tuskegee Airmen, and what they did decades ago to help us win for democracy…it’s really important for particularly young people who may not know that great history that we have here in Pittsburgh and what these Tuskegee Airmen individually did so many years ago that can’t be forgotten.”
Another speaker at the soft opening in addition to Fitzgerald was Kimberly Slater-Wood, the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, Harold Slater. After her speech, she told the Courier she thought the museum was “phenomenal. This is a great approach to raise the awareness and also bring an education to the youth so they can not only learn the history, but also to identify different options for career opportunities.”
Although the term “Tuskegee Airmen” refers to the city of Tuskegee, Ala., its army airfield and at historically-Black Tuskegee University is where thousands of Black pilots, bombardiers, navigators and support staff were trained to fight in World War II.
Pittsburgh has a prized connection to the Tuskegee Airmen because so many Black men from the Pittsburgh area traveled to Tuskegee to train and enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces. That includes Rosa Mae Willis Alford, a woman. She was from Beaver County.
At the outdoor Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, located inside the Sewickley Cemetery, some 100 Tuskegee Airmen (and Alford) from the region are commemorated. It’s believed eight Tuskegee Airmen were from Sewickley.
The logo for the museum is shaped in a “Double V” formation, similar to the famed “Double V” campaign logo that was launched by the Pittsburgh Courier to promote not only a “victory overseas” for the U.S. over its World War II enemies, but a “victory at home” so that the U.S. would, as a whole, stop its discriminatory actions and freedom-limiting tactics against African Americans. After all, Blacks were enlisting in the war to fight for an America that oftentimes looked at them as second-class citizens.
As attendees to the museum’s soft opening perused its confines, the youth were hooked on the flight simulator. Take a seat, like 17-year-old Joy Hendrix did, and now you’re now the pilot, just like the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
“Anything at this level and this magnitude that they (the youth) can touch and feel, then they begin to form those ideas in their mind, as something that’s attainable,” said Lita Hendrix, Joy’s mother. Lita Hendrix, a teacher at Pittsburgh Colfax, told the Courier she’s been a volunteer with Hosanna House for 25 years. “This makes it more real, especially when you do it in a play setting, for young children. It broadens their perspectives.”